Myths, Facts and Alcohol

Are you curious about some of the myths and lore of alcohol? Some common myths come from a desperate hope to help a person sober up.

  1. Myth: Drinking coffee!
    Fact: Drinking coffee will not sober up a person. It could cause more harm than good since coffee, like alcohol, is a diuretic that can further dehydrate a person's body.
  2. Myth: Forcing a person to vomit!
    Fact: Forcing a person to vomit does not help a person sober up and could be dangerous. Once alcohol has passed into the small intestine, vomiting will not expel the alcohol. Encouraging a semiconscious person to vomit could cause choking and/or aspiration.
  3. Myth: Taking a cold shower! 
    Fact: Taking a cold shower will not help since alcohol indiscriminately depresses the nervous system; an intoxicated person's senses are impaired from registering pain, heat, cold, and smell, among other sensory information.

Only time will help a person sober up. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver at the steady rate of about one standard drink per hour. Because metabolism is governed by the amount of enzymes present in the liver (and you cannot increase this amount), you cannot speed up metabolism.

Preventing Hangovers

No one enjoys having an hangover, which often includes a upset stomach, shakiness, headache, thirst, aches and pains, and that general terrible feeling that follows a night of heavy drinking. One of the most important ways to prevent these symptoms is to do some pre-party planning. The chances of experiencing a hangover significantly increase with five or more drinks, especially when consumed in a short period of time. Research supports the theory that the major cause of a hangover is simply drinking too much. Drinking a large quantity of alcohol quickly, as is usually the case in drinking games, tends to increase the incidence of hangovers — not to mention other negative effects, such as alcohol poisoning. So, pacing yourself and limiting yourself to one drink an hour are ways to keep headaches and upset stomachs at bay. Try:

  • Drinking slowly
  • Sipping rather than gulping
  • Diluting drinks
  • Avoiding shots
  • Alternating alcoholic with non-alcoholic beverages
  • Eating a substantial meal before drinking

Most likely, the alcohol and the lactic acid that builds up as the alcohol is metabolized are responsible for the nausea, headache, and irritability. These symptoms, as well as thirst, are also a result of alcohol's diuretic effect, increasing your need to pee. When drinking alcoholic beverages, you will wind up letting go of more liquid than you take in. Thus, it's important to re-hydrate with water and other non-alcoholic, non-carbonated, non-caffeinated drinks both while you're consuming alcohol and afterwards.

From Bloody Marys and barley grass to peanuts and painkillers, it might seem as though just about anything can be touted as a hangover helper. Although several studies have looked into a long list of these products, the only thing that seems to work all the time, every time, is, well, time! With luck, hangovers typically disappear between eight to 24 hours after they begin.

What we do know is that some things can actually make a hangover worse. These things include:

  • Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) after drinking alcohol (which can possibly harm the liver)
  • Popping a couple of aspirin (again may not be a grand idea, as this could make a sour stomach even worse)
  • Drinking a bit more alcohol, known as eating the hair of the dog that bit you (may help one feel better again in the short run, but this only prolongs the inevitable hangover)

On the plus side, there are few ways to help deminish (but not instantly cure) a hangover, such as:

  • Drinking a lot of water. Alcohol acts as a diuretic driving water out of the body, thus causing dehydration, you'll need all the water you can stomach to recover more quickly.
  • Eating! Sticking to protein and complex carbohydrates such as eggs and toast may help settle your stomach.
  • Getting rest. Hopefully the hangover will be gone by the time you wake up.